What to do about 21st century potholes?

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Raleigh is on its way to a new system where people can report non-emergency problems from their cell phones.

Using a service called SeeClickFix along with the capabilities of the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android mobile phones, Raleigh residents will be able to report problems like potholes or downed power lines.

The program uses a map of the city to display exact locations of various problems in the area. Any issue can be reported by clicking a specific spot and leaving a description. From there, existing concerns, which appear as little flags on the map, can be commented on and seconded.

Raleigh city councilor Bonner Gaylord has purchased the pro version of SeeClickFix to use on his website. As a city council member Gaylord said he recognizes the potential that this program has in terms of providing quick, up to date information about the many problems that arise in the city everyday.

The problem that Gaylord and the city face right now is awareness and adoption of the new technology. “It comes down to accountability and acceptance. People need to know that this works,” said Gaylord.

Currently there are 31 little flags on Gaylord’s district E map. These posts date back to mid summer when the program was first added to his website. One report reads, “A tree fell in the forest and no one heard it.” Several people want this fixed.

The proposed solution to the infrequently inhabited online version of Raleigh’s district E map is to go mobile.

In early January, Tucson became the first city to use the SeeClickFix smart phone application. Andrew Greenhill, the mayor’s chief of staff, worked closely with SeeClickFix’s CEO, Ben Berkowitz, to create something that would streamline the process, taking SeeClickFix another step higher than the “pothole hotline.”

“Smart phones provide better quality data for street maintenance workers. The GPS helps with locating the 311 issue and the photos let us know if it’s a crack or a crater,” Greenhill said.

The advantage of the mobile phone application is that people will be able to access SeeClickFix while they are actually moving around in the city, experiencing any problems first hand. Raleighites will literally be able to see a problem, click their phone (whether it be picture or text), and city officials can view the posts and hopefully fix the issue.

WRAL and Capitol Broadcasting have offered to cover the cost of the app for the city of Raleigh. There is no contract with the city and WRAL, but there is one between the popular news outlet and SeeClickFix.

A Capitol Broadcasting representative could not be reached for comment.

Berkowitz, the SeeClickFix CEO, said that if the deal goes through this will be the first time that a news organization has purchased the software for a municipal government.

WRAL will be paying for, “branding and full monitoring capabilities for the city of Raleigh’s implementation of SeeClickFix,” Gaylord said. The app will not be used for WRAL advertising, said Gaylord, but will create a street team of citizen reporters who are constantly providing live updates for both city officials and WRAL.

SeeClickFix is not meant to replace existing modes of notification. The city will still be taking calls and responding to reports. The app, Gaylord said, is simply a new outlet to obtain the information needed to do the job in a faster, more efficient way.

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